God’s prophets to Israel and Judah had a difficult task. Their message was not a popular one and many refused to believe them. There were also competing messages from some who called themselves God’s prophets. No wonder the people were confused!
As the nation of Judah headed towards eventual exile in Babylon, God had his prophet Jeremiah enact what was going to happen. Early in King Zedekiah’s reign God told Jeremiah to make a yoke, like oxen would use to pull plows and wagons (many would more likely use horses today). The yoke forced the animal to serve its owner by pulling.
Jeremiah was to wear this yoke to symbolise that Judah would submit to the “yoke of servitude” of the king of Babylon and he was to announce that Judah would have to submit to Babylon (Jeremiah 27:1-11). Later that year Jeremiah ran into opposition from another prophet.
“The prophet Hananiah son of Azzur, who was from Gibeon, spoke to Jeremiah in the Lord’s temple in the presence of the priests and all the people: ‘The Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says, “I will break the yoke of servitude to the king of Babylon. Before two years are over, I will bring back to this place everything that King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon took from it and carried away to Babylon. I will also bring back to this place Jehoiakim’s son King Jeconiah of Judah and all the exiles who were taken to Babylon.” Indeed, the Lord affirms, “I will break the yoke of servitude to the king of Babylon.”’” (Jeremiah 28:1-4 NET)
There were now two messages being proclaimed by two prophets, both claiming that their message was from God. This would have been confusing to the people who heard them. How could they tell who was telling the truth and what the message from God really was? Notice Jeremiah’s wise counsel.
“Amen! May the Lord do all this! May the Lord make your prophecy come true! May he bring back to this place from Babylon all the valuable articles taken from the Lord’s temple and the people who were carried into exile. But listen to what I say to you and to all these people. From earliest times, the prophets who preceded you and me invariably prophesied war, disaster, and plagues against many countries and great kingdoms. So if a prophet prophesied peace and prosperity, it was only known that the Lord truly sent him when what he prophesied came true.” (Jeremiah 28:6-9)
How could people tell who was God’s real prophet? It was the one whose prophecy came true. It really was quite simple.
So often people seem to think that ‘might makes right’ – and Hananiah seems to have been such a person. He didn’t like Jeremiah’s response so he took the yoke Jeremiah was wearing and broke it, saying the Lord would break the yoke of servitude to Babylon in the same way.
Jeremiah’s response to Hannah was short and to the point: “Listen, Hananiah! The Lord did not send you! You are making these people trust in a lie. So the Lord says, ‘I will most assuredly remove you from the face of the earth. You will die this very year because you have counseled rebellion against the Lord’” (Jeremiah 28:15-16).
So who was the true prophet of God? When Hananiah died two months later (Jeremiah 28:17), Jeremiah was shown to be God’s true prophet.
This isn’t too different from situations in which we may find ourselves. There are those who proclaim a different message. How do people tell the difference?
Today we have God’s word in written form. So the question is: which message can be backed up by what God says? The people of Berea were commended for “examining the scriptures carefully every day to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). Can anything less be expected of us?
Readings for next week: Jeremiah 26-32